Apiarists warned to 'bee' on their guard to protect their hives from disease

Date published: 08 September 2016

It might surprise you that much of the food on our plates is there thanks, in one way or another, to the humble honey bee.

Tom Williamson, Senior Bee Health Inspector, explains how to inspect a frame of brood for signs of brood disease

As well as playing a vital role in pollinating crops they also help sustain the countryside, and provide useful wax and honey.

With 1,000 active beekeepers in Northern Ireland maintaining some 4,500 colonies, ensuring our bee population is healthy is therefore of top importance for the Bee Health Inspectors within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

“Beekeepers play a key role in keeping their bees healthy and in the early identification of diseases,” explained DAERA’s Senior Bee Inspector Tom Williamson.

“However they should also ensure that their management practices do not risk the health of their bees. Disease can be spread from hive to hive by swapping frames, using hive tools and gloves soiled with propolis and wax, which can contain bacteria and spores the human eye cannot detect.

“As autumn approaches we are urging beekeepers to check their colonies for any abnormalities and be vigilant for the symptoms of two bacterial diseases, in particular American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood (EFB), which we have found in an increasing number of colonies recently.

“These diseases, which kill the bee larvae within the hive, can result in colonies being compulsorily destroyed. Good management practices should be adopted to stop or reduce the spread of infection and ensure hives and apiaries are protected.”

DAERA has been hosting practical bee disease identification workshops to help apiarists develop their skills in identifying brood diseases. Organised in conjunction with the Ulster Bee Keepers Association (UBKA) and Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers (INIB) the workshops were attended by beekeepers, Association Bee Health Officers, Lecturers, Apiary Managers and Mentors.

Commenting on the workshops, Christina Bradley of the INIB said: “The aim is to train the participants in recognising brood disease so that they then can be called upon to help other beekeepers identify problems.

The hope is that beekeepers who are more knowledgeable in recognising brood disease can then aid others in detecting brood disease in their colonies. Thanks to INIB and DEARA we are starting to move in the right direction of making sure we have healthy and disease free bees in Northern Ireland.”

Following the workshop held in Enniskillen, Noel McAllister, Chairman of Fermanagh Beekeepers Association, added: “These key learnings should help to improve the individuals’ beekeeping practice over time and we will be asking them to pass on this knowledge to others in our association.”

DAERA delivers an annual programme of surveillance, inspection and enforcement for the control of notifiable pests and diseases, in support of protecting bee health, with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) providing science and diagnostic support.

American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood (EFB) are notifiable diseases, so once detected or suspected DAERA Bee Health Inspectors must be informed and the apiary will be officially inspected and measures taken to break the chain of infection and destroy any source of disease.

DAERA Bee Health Inspectors can be contacted at: beehealth@daera-ni.gov.uk or 028 9052 4168.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Further information is available on the DAERA website.
  2. Follow us on Twitter @daera_ni.
  3. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office, pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk or tel: 028 9052 4619.

Share this page

Back to top